Kanye West took to Twitter yesterday to issue an ultimatum—Apple needs to buy Tidal. Now.
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That’s not hard to believe—Apple’s motives for buying Tidal are solid, but not overwhelming. With streaming becoming a bigger slice of the digital music pie, Apple needs a successful streaming service to replace lost iTunes download revenue. But Tidal’s subscription numbers aren’t great. They were recently reported at 4.2 million, compared to north of 13 million for Apple Music. As Don Reisinger pointed out after the talks were reported, Tidal would be more important as a sort of celebrity acqui-hire for Apple, a way to tap into Jay-Z’s web of close artist relationships.
Kanye’s complaint about giving fans access to music refers to competition for exclusive releases, which have become a strategy for both Tidal and Apple Music to try and catch up with category-leader Spotify, which has about 30 million subscribers.
As an artist-fronted company, Tidal has had some big exclusives. The service got a large bump in app downloads when Beyoncé rolled out Lemonade with Tidal, and Newsweek reported that subscriptions “more than doubled” after West’s Life of Pablo debuted on the service.
Meanwhile, artists like Drake, Future, and Pharrell Williams have signed exclusive deals with Apple Music. Drake and Kanye have been both collaborators and rivals in other venues, heightening the sense that this is some kind of war.
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But what Kanye’s anxiety unintentionally underscores is that Tidal has little chance of winning that war—that while artist relationships could help Apple in gaining ground on Spotify, they may not be enough to make Tidal a long-term player.
In short, Tidal probably needs an Apple buyout. But publicly telling Tim Cook to “stop trying to act like you Steve [Jobs]” may not be a great way to speed that process.